Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne were close friends when they were both writing their famous novels. The two shared their ideas with each other through letters and meetings, one could imagine; however, this may not have been so perfect. It is likely that they agreed on each other’s ideas but also disagreed on some of their ideas too. This is apparent especially in the presentation of the themes of nature and convention in their novels. Melville in Moby Dick believes that one must escape from convention and commerce and go to the sea — the most natural place in existence.
As seen by how Queequeg is this natural brute and cannibal where as the Puritan people follow strict rules of society and religion. On the contrary, Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter believes that humanity must have both convention as well as nature in their lives; they also had to be in balance with one another. Such as Pearl is a character created from a sin of nature but still has to conform to the norms of society. The two authors create the characters’ personalities, morals, and actions to convey their theme in their novels.
Melville believes in characters with opposing traits of nature and convention where as Hawthorne believes in characters that have traits of nature and convention that coexist in the world as one. In Moby Dick, Melville depicts the world as two extremes, the land is commerce and convention and the oceans and seas as nature. Melville believes that humanity to not become corrupt by greed, one must to go back to their primal nature and go out into “those uncivilized seas”(Melville 247).
This is what Ishmael accomplished doing in the novel: “Then the wild and distant seas where he [Moby Dick] rolled his island bulk; the undeliverable, nameless perils of the whale; these, with all the attending marvels of a thousand Patagonian sights and sounds, helped to sway me to my wish”(Melville 19). He wanted to get away from the commerce of the world which was so focused on the material things and wealth that he decides to go somewhere where he can be free and have no strict rules and just live how he wants to.
This is what Melville thinks humanity is all about, the ability to be who you want to be and have what you want and no one can take that from you. Back on land if someone doesn’t have money and property then they are in trouble because that is what the land focused on, commerce and convention. Convention is an agreement covering particular matters, especially ones less formal than a treaty. Before convention land was natural with no laws and links between people. When convention was introduced it created a wellbeing for people not just the self.
It was realized by this people that they need someone to keep everyone in line and in check for the betterment of everyone. This is what led for the drive of going out to sea to be free where there were no limits or taxes or laws, it was just free. It showed a place of independence and self clarity where one can find who they really are and want to be. Queequeg is the most natural person in the novel Moby Dick. He is a prince from a pacific island and came to New England to explore the world as well as make some money along the way.
Melville represents nature in his novel as this barbaric and primal state. The oceans are referenced as desolate and expansive places with no civilization to be found. Melville says that one must go from the convention and go to the independence of nature, but it can be a dangerous and ruthless place. It has many negative aspects to it as well and Melville hints to them. He shows the prevalence of cannibalism in two different ways. When we first meet Queequeg in the story he “Be sellin’ human heads about the streets”(Melville 35).
We see through this that Queequeg is a very natural and barbaric brute ho is selling human heads as well as a dark side to the state of nature. Then when Ishmael is on the Pequod, they come in contact with sharks who are eating their own innards and well as others: “They viciously snapped, not only at each other’s disembowelments, but like flexible bows, bent round, and bit their own; till those entrails seemed swallowed over and over again by the same mouth”(Melville 419). Through these two examples we can see a side to nature that may not be so pleasant to some. This is why so many people stay in convention and don’t dare to venture out into the freedom that is nature.
However, with freedom and independence, comes difficulties and unspeakable things are done to survive in the primal and barbaric state that is the state of nature. On the contrary to these two polar opposite ideas from Melville, Hawthorne’s ideas are very different. He believes that humanity must have an equal balance of both nature and convention in life. Nature is part of who we are, that aggressive and violent nature of wanting everything for oneself, this is nature. Too much of that is a bad thing and that is where convention comes into play, in the mind of Hawthorne.
Through the use of convention all of what we would hoard for ourselves is now commonly shared between ones community. Without the help of others in the world one would have great difficulty surviving on basic necessities. Without trade and sharing it would be impossible to make money which the land so heavily depended on for success and a good and easy life. Through the use of Pearl in The Scarlet Letter we see this clearly. Pearl is this gentle young beautiful girl who represents the sunshine and red roses she says, “She had been plucked by her mother off the bush of wild roses that grew by the prison door”(Hawthorne 127).
However, there is also the dark side of nature where she becomes this witch like creature who makes painful noises and has violent actions: “Her puny wrath, snatching up stones to fling at them, with shrill, incoherent exclamations, that made her mother tremble, because they had so much the sound of a witch’s anathemas in some unknown tongue”(Hawthorne 108). She exemplifies what Hawthorne is thinking the relationship between the two should be. She is a sweet little girl of convention but also a product of a sin and natural urge.
Also through the use of Hester we see what happens to people who have too much convention and not enough nature. The puritan people are so wrapped up in their conventional ways that they cast Hester apart from everyone after she is publicly set on display to show the world what she did. Hester is too natural for the Puritan’s conventional ways that they turn her away and even try to save Pearl from, what they see as, her mother’s corrupt ideology. The Puritans have certain ideas and beliefs that everything revolves around and Hester and Pearl did not fit into them.
The Puritans have a very strict set of rules and customs in their society. They take the idea of convention to a new and drastic level. Their religious beliefs define their way of living and if you break any of their religious rules you are essentially exiled from the community. In the novel Hester committed a major crime in the eyes of the community and was cast out from society. In the Puritan society the people live almost two sets of lives. That which everyone sees and one that is hidden inside; they wear masks in society and are full of hypocrisy and deception.
They all have these secrets that they hide from the open; however, they aren’t brave enough to share it with the world. Hester is the least hypocritical character because because she takes her mask off by standing on the scaffold holding her child showing her sin. She is showing the world what is behind her mask and in doing so going against all of the Puritan ways of convention: “With a burning blush, and yet a haughty smile, and a glance that would not be abashed, looked around at her townspeople and neighbors”(Hawthorne 61).
By doing so she is the most pure out of all of the puritans because she is embodying both convention and nature. Hester accepts the fact that she knows that her actions were wrong according to the Puritan beliefs and customs and doesn’t want to pass her values down to Pearl. She fears she will not become like the normal Puritan person in society who lives for convention and will in turn become a more barbaric and natural character.
By recognizing this she is stating that she wants to live like the regular Puritans but it will be difficult because of her natural sin which is Pearl. This makes her both a natural and conventional character and embodies the ideas of Hawthorne. Hawthorne and Melville did have some things in common though, they both believed that nature and convention played a part in the human experience just in different ways. Melville saw them as black and white, two extremes, where as Hawthorne saw them as more of a gray area, existing in balance as one not as two.
Through the use of their main characters in both novels we see the difference the way the themes of nature and convention differ and affect the novels story. Even though we know they are friends and often shared their ideas with one another; we still see their own personal ideas and styles through how their characters come through their novels Moby Dick and The Scarlet Letter. As well as how their actions, morals, and personalities affect the way in which they act and define the themes of both nature and convention.